The American Dream, the idea that every citizen can be successful if they work hard, is believable to the degree that every student going to school has the same opportunity to learn the skills needed to succeed in society. But if the opportunity for students to attain a sufficient education is imbalanced, then the likelihood of success becomes very slim for some students. Today, inequality has become a serious problem among poor students and their wealthy peers across the country, and the dream of becoming a successful icon is moving farther out of reach for them. In order to succeed in life, one depends on his or her adolescent years and years in college that desperately lean on the socioeconomic status of the parents and not only the quality of education. The achievement gap between the rich and the poor is constantly growing wider, and if nothing is done to aid poor student population the gap will continue to increase resulting in economic consequences and possibly crime among low-income adolescences who can’t cope with school life because they need to support for their family.
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The problem America faces is the relationship of an underprivileged socioeconomic background linked to poor child development and education. For the longest time, education has been the major lane to success in the United States. One’s life depends a lot on the skills attained from school and from family background, and the lack of opportunities influences the development of children and their future endeavors. Contrary to the middle-class and upper class children, many underprivileged children are deprived of these equal opportunities. In fact, children from low-income families get very little chances to have a normal education at all, and higher education like college and private schooling is essentially an unattainable dream that they can imagine but it never actually comes true. Due to the lack of resources and finances the initial opportunities of people from low-income families are consistently worse than opportunities of the rest of American children.
Reading Richard D. Kahlenburg’s “5 Myths About Who Gets Into College,” he states that a 2004 Century Foundation study found that at the most selective universities and colleges, “74 percent of students come from the richest quarter of the population, while just 3 percent come from the bottom corner” (495). Correspondingly, SAT scores play an important role in being admitted to a good university. Students who come from areas with high poverty rates and come from low-income families usually score, on average, “784 points lower than the more privileged and fortunate student body” (Kahlenburg, 495). Even when students from low-income families score high on standardized testing and receive admittance to a university, their families have trouble supporting their children’s education financially. Consequently, these children are basically forced to work to earn enough money to keep his/her family alive, so ultimately college is a very difficult education level to attain. Naturally, most people are equally as intelligent, but in society today it matters what environment one lives in and what quality opportunities are presented depending on social status. For most people summer is a time to relax, but if you want to keep up with your classmates maybe its time to pick up a book! During summer break there is a common decline in learning that students experience, and this is called the summer slide.
Three researchers from Johns Hopkins University named Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson, researched this issue thoroughly by performing longitudinal studies on Baltimore students from 1st grade through age 22. During the academic year, lower-class children achieved the same reading levels as their middle and upper class peers, but children from lower-class families diminished in reading skills once summer started. Children from more affluent families have more opportunities such as summer school, tutoring, and other programs that low-income children cannot afford. It is concluded: “two-thirds of the ninth grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during elementary school” (Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, Linda Olson). Another recent study resulted in similar conclusions to the one completed by the researchers of Johns Hopkins University. In an essay written by McCombs, J. S., Augustine, C.H., and Schwartz, H.L, they acknowledge that during the summer students in elementary school lose about a month of knowledge and skill, and even worse off, lower-income students can lose up to two or three months. And so low-income students fall disproportionally behind in reading while their middle and upper income peers may even gain skills in reading because of the summer activities available for them.
The worst part of it all is that summer learning loss is cumulative and as time progresses, low-income and higher-income students’ performance starts to segregate, thus contributing significantly to a wider achievement gap. If you notice, in Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson study, they talk about lower-class children achieving the same reading levels as their middle and upper class peers in a given academic year. This goes to prove that it is not so much the school and poor teaching that causes such an increase in the achievement gap between the rich and the poor over the last few decades, but the way people make use of their summers and time spent away from school regarding socioeconomic status. Not only does this apply to summers and time from school, but also a child’s success in life greatly depends on his or her family background the years before school even starts. Children have the ability to effortlessly learn a new language or a subject in school because of their cognitive skills that work much better than in later years. So it is apparent that they receive the best environment and treatment from their parents in order to start kindergarten on the right track.
What can we do about the problems lower-class children in early years face in relation to poor societal status and low-income? One effective way to narrow the achievement gap between the rich and the poor would be to make sure all students have admittance to a committed, cognitively motivating environment in the comfort of their own home and in preschool locations, so no matter where the children are they can feel safe and secure in these child- friendly areas. In order to do this, we need an economy that can provide poor families with sufficient incomes/wages. More jobs, more affordable health care, and child-care programs are also necessary to increase the average income of lower-class individuals and boost the socioeconomic status so many suffer under. Another good idea to enhance the lives of young children preparing for the educational world, are programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership where nurses help low-income, first-time mothers raise their children and learn skills needed to become a good parent and give their children the best start in life possible. Getting a good start in life and being ready for Kindergarten years is a very crucial among peers because, currently, the preparation gap for school considering middle and upper class students is much greater than lower-class students who do not have the resources necessary to catch up to their affluent pupils.
Consequently, another solution that may tighten the gap between low-income students and high-income students, regarding preparation for early years of school, would be to start public education at an earlier age. At first the cost may appear to be quite expensive because of the extra years of schooling needing funding, but the social benefits of a decreased inequality gap could outweigh the costs of the extra years in the long run. In fact, it would not only reduce the inequality gap, but it would also upsurge the amount of women remaining at work after pregnancy, resulting in an increase in GDP as well. The best manner in reducing educational inequality is to guarantee that all children begin school on an even note. Schools do not have the power and the determination alone to fix the gap so it the state, federal government, and American citizens to put these issues on top of the list of economic duties. Without a proper education, students living in lower-class areas don’t have the necessary tools that will help them escape the life they would otherwise resort to, crime, if school were not to work out.
The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood by David Simon and Edward Burns is a good example of why improvements in education opportunities and achievement for low-income cities need to be made. Through the eyes of the protagonist DeAndre McCullough, we are introduced to the brutal, threatening conditions of inner city life, which many low-income students suffer from due to a number of socioeconomic problems they face. As a result of being a victim of these conditions, DeAndre has lost all motivation to think about his future, “Maybe he’d think more about his future if it were clear he had one.”(David Simon). He has accepted the fact that his life could end at any moment, ultimately resulting in a loss of purpose. This acceptance is reflected in others with similar situations, they turn to the streets because “In this place only, they know what they are, why they are, and what it is that they are supposed to do. Here, they almost matter”(David Simon). Children who are not born with the privileges rich peers have acquired, have a choice between joining the street life to get by or follow an educational route; but unfortunately in society today, the first choice is more promising.
However, with proper motivation and better learning facilities, young teenagers like DeAndre don’t have to make these assumptions. The achievement gap between the poor and rich is continuously widening due to the fact that low-income children can’t break out of their parents’ social status very easily while wealthy children have all the resources necessary to be prosperous. According to Stanford professor Sean Reardon, the difference in average academic skills of children in low-income and high-income families is “roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier” (Reardon). Low-income students usually end up just keeping their parents socioeconomic status because they cannot afford to attend nice schools and acquire all the outside resources and extra help necessary; vise versa, families with high income have a greater chance to send their children to sufficient schools and tend to have safer learning environments than low-income individuals. It is the poor staying relatively still throughout the twenty-five years regarding increased income, while the middle/upper class group accumulates a lot of money, which, in turn, increases the income gap between the two groups. The increase in the income gap between poor and rich parents means that there is an increase in the achievement gap between poor and rich students.
In recent years, a lot of focus has been put on preparing young children for next level education like Kindergarten and elementary school, because ensuring readiness is very important for a proper learning experience. However, let’s take into account all the negative aspects that normally play into the socioeconomic background of students in low-income families: 1) Low-income level of parents, 2) parents unemployed or have minimum wage jobs, 3) either parents never went to college or never even finished high school, 4) single mother/ father in prison (Willis, 2007). Low-income students from these kinds of families have a small chance of social mobility and will likely just follow in the footprints their parents left behind. Adolescences don’t have the motivation to try in school because they know where their life is going to be headed regardless.
Many poor families would love to get off of welfare, live on the beach, achieve a better socioeconomic status, etc. but segregation between low-income families and middle/high income families forces the two groups to live in areas corresponding to their income level. So even if poor students want to gain a sufficient education, they will have a lot of trouble getting it because poverty follows them wherever they go. As we already know, education opportunities of children from low-income families are consistently worse than those of the middle and upper class. Such a situation is very dangerous for the future of children because, currently, education is one of the major conditions that lead individuals to progress and a successful career. In fact, without good education, these children will not have good job opportunities and, therefore, the competitiveness in the labor market will be extremely low. And not only does poverty link to poor education, it also strongly correlates with meager health benefits. Poor health is affecting the low-income population due to low paying jobs having bad health insurance and not giving individuals enough money to get better insurance.
Middle-class and upper-class societies are given better health benefits than the poor, less fortunate because they have more opportunities in attaining jobs with good health benefits. As a result, the lack of educational opportunities deprives them of future job opportunities and health benefits, and children from low-income families are stuck in a kind of vicious circle, from which only few can find the way out. The opportunities presented to the middle-class and upper-class population are a lot more abundant and superior quality. The Federal government and the state governments need to find a balance between the two economic groups and offer better schooling to the less fortunate so they can catch up to the standards of the better educated collection of individuals and families. This inequality of achievement between the social classes is leaving the poor in the dust as the middle and upper class individuals take advantage of all the necessities of a good education.
Alexander, K. L, Entwisle, D., & Olson, L. (2007). Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review, 72, 167-180. Hernandez, D.J. (2011) Double jeopardy: Highways creation linked to the economy. Baltimore: Annie E. Casey Foundation. Kahlenburg, Richard D. “5 Myths About Who Gets Into College.” Read, Reason, Write An Argument Text and Reader. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. McCombs, J. S., Augustine, C. H.,
Schwartz, H. L, Bodilly, S. J., McInnis, B., Lichter, D. S, & Cross, A. B. (2011). Making summer count: How summer programs can boost students’ learning. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Reardon, S.F. (2012). The widening academic achievement gap between the rich and the poor. Community Investments: Summer 2012, 24(2), 19-39.